A near 100-degree September afternoon finds Merrill Wohler sipping coffee, puffing on a cigarette and doing what he loves most in the world...piddlin’.
It’s hard work doing nothing and he’s very good at it, starting this particular day around 4 a.m. in his beloved shed in Marthasville.
“I gotta be out here,” Wohler said. “This is my place. I’m not a guy to be on the inside.”
Even after more than 10 years of retirement, Wohler, 78, still finds something to tinker with and he isn’t picky.
“It really don’t matter,” he said. “I just roll with the punches. I’m down for anything.”
In 1966, Wohler began driving a bulk fuel truck for the MFA and it was his office on wheels for the next 40 years.
He never really wanted to take the job but the combination of a tractor accident and his dad telling him he needed help, made the choice for him.
“I used to work at the old Continental Telephone Company,” he said. “I loved telephone work. My job was to remove old crank phones and wire houses for new rotary dial phones.”
Driving the gas truck was an adventure in its own right and allowed Wohler to be out and about delivering fuel to farms and houses in good weather and bad.
“You run into all kinds of weird stuff,” he said. “The best part of being retired is not having to deal with the general public.”
He added the worst part of his years behind the wheel were the increases and reliance on technology.
“Damn computers,” he said. “My idea of a laptop was a clipboard and a grilled cheese sandwich.”
Wohler served seven years in a communications unit in the Missouri National Guard.
As a young man in Army basic training, Wohler met a friend who was an auctioneer and he began practicing the craft.
“That was a fun ride,” Wohler said. “Me and my ringman Paul Creek. People said it wasn’t an auction, it was a show. One time, I couldn’t figure out what something was and I told everyone it was a grease gun for a horse.”
One popular antic for the pair was any time a mirror would come across the block they would say ‘How much for this picture on an auction?’
Wohler said one of the more unique items her ever auctioned off was a liquor still they found in the attic above an old summer kitchen.
He told the men to drag it out of there and he’d sell it. Only problem was they weren’t sure if it would sell, or more importantly, if it was legal to do so.
“I told them to lay a dust mop on top of the still,” Wohler explained. “I ended up selling the dust mop for $750 and the guy took everything underneath it.”
Over the years, Wohler sold everything under the sun from houses to coffee roasters. Some high dollar, and some low.
“I wouldn’t ever go below half a dollar,” Wohler said. “If it got that low, we’d put other things together. The one thing I never liked to auction off was farm machinery. My friends always wanted the lowest price, but I was hired to get the highest.”
A current project for Wohler is a Frankenstein of John Deere parts meticulously assembled that will soon become a toy for his grandkids.
He enjoys his piddlin’ time so much now because until his retirement, he didn’t have much at all.
Between delivering gas and auctioneering on the weekends, he was never home and was never able to take his family on vacations.
Wohler worked the auction circuit for 26 years and said his peak was 59 one year working mostly weekends after driving the gas truck on the weekdays.
Today, those years of constant movement are starting to catch up with him
“For years all I ever needed was Alka-Seltzer,” he said while opening a fresh pack of smokes.
In 2009, Wohler was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, but that hasn’t slowed him down.
“The Alka-Seltzer seemed to work so well all I had to do was rub the package on my chest,” he said. “Now, I have to take four shots a day and a handful of pills.”
Wohler has been married to his lovely wife Beverly for 52 years and the couple have three kids, Shane, Sherry and Shawn, who have given them four grandkids. They also have one great-grandson.
Because he was never able to take his family on vacation due to his busy work and auction schedules, he had an inground pool installed in his backyard.
“Well, we had that filled in a few years ago,” Wohler said. “Otherwise we’d have to put a wheelchair ramp into it.”
Wohler was born in Wright City and went through school there before moving to Marthasville in the mid-1960s and meeting Beverly who lived in Treloar.
Beverly never has to wonder where Merrill is because she knows he will always be in the shed working on some project or another.
In fact, there are several other wives who also know where their husbands area every Saturday morning when as many as 15 of Merrill’s fellow piddlers make their way to his shed to talk about their latest projects over donuts and coffee.
“I’ve had a good go,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes I think I’m still 35, then I get to working and I remember I’m not.”